Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Seven Deadly Sins (Season 1)

Nanatsu no Taizai; animated fantasy action adventure series, Japan, 2014; D: Tensai Okamura, S: Yuki Kaji, Sora Amamiya, Misaki Kuno, Aoi Yuki, Tatsuhisa Suzuki, Jun Fukuyama, Marina Inoue, Yuja Uchida


Fictional Kingdom of Britannia, Middle ages. Ten years ago, the Holy Knights, led by Hendrickson, banished and eliminated the Seven Deadly Sins, seven knights who were alleged to have plotted against the king. However, soon the Holy Knights stage a coup d'etat and overthrow the king themselves, so the king's daughter, Elizabeth, flees and seeks the help of the Seven Deadly Sins. She first meets the short, blond Meliodas and his talking pig, Hawk, who are running a tavern as a disguise while searching the rest of their team. They encounter the other Sins: Diane, Ban, King, Gowther, Merlin. After Elizabeth gets kidnapped, the Sins attack the capital. It is discovered that Hendrickson injected demon blood into himself and the other Holy Knights and that he plans to break the seal and unleash demons again into the human world, hoping to have an enemy, and a purpose, for the Holy Knight. Meliodas defeats him and saves Elizabeth, while the king rehabilitates the Sins.

"The Seven Deadly Sins" are an anime series that starts off far better than it ultimately ends up being. The first two episodes are so fantastic, fresh and creatively fun that you immediately ask yourself: "How can they possible keep up such a high level for the rest of the story?" Unfortunately, they  cannot: the remaining 22 episodes are good, but routine. The first two episodes shine: a damsel in distress, Elizabeth, is looking for one of the eponymous Sins, Meliodas, in a tavern led by a short, blond teenager and his talking pig. Meliodas is depicted as a tall, dashing man with a goatee on a wanted poster. Throughout the entire episode, the name of the mysterious blond guy is never brought up. However, just as a knight thug chases and attacks Elizabeth, demonstrating his power that can level a quarter of the forest, he is confronted by the blond guy who defeats him. As the Holy Knight is catapulted in the sky, his armor destroyed, the blond guy then finally reveals his name—his image is "frozen" with a caption saying: "Meliodas, the sin of Wrath". And then the episode ends, with such a great, epic and cool cliffhanger. The 2nd episode also has grandeur thanks to a 'tour-de-force' sequence in which the evil Holy Knight Gilthunder throws a spear at a village located far away from his castle, but Meliodas intervenes, spots the spear in the sky and grabs it from a cliff: it plunges him into the village where it destroys half a house, but Meliodas is able to stop the spear and prevent any further casualties. Meliodas then catapults the spear back with equal ferocity, and it hits the castle, causing an explosion, hitting Gilthunder's chair—missing his head just by an inch. Unfortunately, once it builds up the viewers' appetite, waiting for further such 'tour-de-force' moments leads to no avail: "Sins" are riding on a false momentum for the rest of the storyline, exhausting its potentials from the start.

The anime basically undergoes a "Dragonball-ization", offering endless fights, wrestling and clashes, but they become boring and tiresome since the style and inspiration from the start is never repeated. The protagonists are stabbed, impaled or thrown through the walls several dozen times, almost "Tom & Jerry"-style, but since they always use their powers to regenerate again, there is no real tension or stake in these fights. It as if they are made of rubber. Another problem is that each subsequent episode introduces at least one or two new characters, overcrowding the podium, with no sense of timing or measure, while the old characters are forgotten and neglected. This is especially jarring in episode 12, where, all out of the blue, Elizabeth's older sister, Veronica is introduced, but killed in the same episode: the viewers cannot invest themselves into Veronica since she is just one of thirty characters that just come and go without any time to "grow roots" into the storyline. Episodes 9-11 are just empty filler, introducing a fighting tournament which the protagonists have to attend in order to get Diane's weapon, a hammer, as a prize, yet it ends in an illogical plot point: only the Sins are left, but instead of just faking it to not waste time battling each other and get the hammer, since they will get it as a team no matter who of them wins, Ban and Meliodas actually fight for real (!) as if their life depends on it. Other ideas are misguided: why is Diane a giant? It makes for a very inconvenient feature when she interact with the other Sins, and serves no purpose later on. She could have had normal height. A few better moments show up here and there, yet only in small crumbs: for instance, Ban, with a beard, escapes from prison, Jericho attacks him by wielding a sword, but it turns out she only managed to "shave" him, since he is invincible for the rest of his body. While the animation is beautiful (the two characters of Meliodas and Elizabeth are drawn irresistibly cute) and the main theme interesting (the good guys are actually bad guys who are fighting against the bad guys who are actually the good guys), "Sins" should have spent more care on its style and fun than its empty fights which seems standard. Ultimately, it is an anime that just pretends to be great, while it is truly great only in the first two episodes.

Grade:++

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Servant

The Servant; psychological drama, UK, 1963; D: Joseph Losey, S: James Fox, Dirk Bogarde, Sarah Miles, Wendy Craig

London. Tony, a rich nobleman, hires Barrett to be his butler. While Tony spends his time with his girlfriend Susan, Barrett routinely cleans up his apartment and cooks. One day, Barrett takes in a young girl, Vera, claiming to be his sister. Tony falls for Vera and sleeps with her. Upon returning one night early to his home, Tony is shocked to find out Barrett having sex with Vera, who is actually his fiancé. Tony throws them both out of his home. Susan leaves Tony. He later meets Barrett again who begs Tony to return as his butler, since he is broke. Tony accepts, but Barrett refuses more and more to clean up after Tony. Vera shows up, claiming that Barrett ostensibly told her to fool Tony. Unable to live without Barrett and Vera anymore, Tony passively allows them to do whatever they now want in his home.

One of Joseph Losey's most famous and critically recognized films, "The Servant" is an engaging psychological-allegorical drama that gets more and more unsettling with its running time, until its almost Polanski-esque ending. The simple story about an Aristocrat and his butler serves as a slow-burning commentary on the (subtle) clash between the upper and lower class, and on the urge for dominance as a whole, with the finale showing a secret "revolution" in which the upper class is overthrown in a shift of powers: just as Barrett was at first dependent on Tony for money, now Tony is dependent on Barrett who becomes the new "man in charge". However, this transformation in the ending is somewhat chaotic and unclear, since its triggers were not quite determined. Is Tony dependent on Barrett because of his suppressed gay side? Or because he needs Vera after Susan left him? Either way, the ending is contemplating that it is not only important who owns what, but also who owns whom. One of the strongest metafilm touches is the sequence on the stairs near the finale, where Tony and Barrett constantly exchange their positions—first one is above the other, then the later ascends the stairs while the former descends down—to show the shifting of their power positions. Losey has a very good shot composition, using fluent camera drives and a wide lens to create an engaging mood. Several moments are very expressionistic, as well, such as the grotesque sequence where Tony and Susan return home early at night, and then quietly enter to listen to Barrett's and Vera's hedonistic enjoyment in the empty apartment, "Risky Business" style, with the shadow of a naked Barrett even appearing on the wall, framed by the light coming from the door. While it has a few omissions, "The Servant" is a strong essay on the human tendency to exploit the other in order to rise through the ranks.

Grade:+++

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Hail the Conquering Hero

Hail the Conquering Hero; comedy / satire, USA, 1944; D: Preston Sturges, S: Eddie Bracken, Ella Raines, Raymond Walburn, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn 




World War II. Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith has been pretending that he is out of the country for a year, fighting in the Pacific, in order to oblige his mother, yet in reality, he was discharged from the army right from the start due to hay fever. In a bar, he buys a beer to six Marines back from the Battle of Guadalcanal, so the thankful Sergeant Heffelfinger decides to help him: they will return to his hometown, pretending that Woodrow really fought with them. Back home, Woodrow is shocked at the parade of the people in his honor, as well as the decision that he should run for Mayor against Mr. Noble in the upcoming election. Woodrow also finds out his girlfriend, Libby, is engaged to someone else. At a convention, Woodrow finally admits he never served a day in the army. He prepares to leave the town, but the people invite him to run for Mayor, anyway, amazed at his honesty.

Preston Sturges' final film for Paramount is a biting satire on World War II mythomania, a pathological tendency to exaggerate and tell lies in the name of patriotism, exposing them as a trait of people who want to cover a void in their empty lives, which reaches almost a universal message (the film is practically an accidental parody of the reputation of Ahmadiyya Jabrayilov). However, "Hail the Conquering Hero" is not particularly funny, exhausting its inspiration at face value of this concept, since the second half, in which Woodrow is pressured to run for Mayor, seems almost "off-topic", as if this political subplot was shoehorned into the story. Moreover, the character of Woodrow's live interest, Libby, is very underwritten. William Demarest almost steals the show and easily outshines everyone in the supporting role of Sargeant Heffelfinger, who does not shy away from bending the truth. One of the best jokes is near the start when he tries to order six beers at a bar and intend to pay it with, as he claims it, "General Yamatoho's tooth", but the bar owner beats him to the chase and presents numerous mementos that he already has ("MacArthur's suspenders! The first bullet that landed in Pearl Harbor... you can take your pick. A piece of a Japanese submarine.And if you look at it this way, it becomes a German submarine. And this way it's a piece of a shell that just missed Montgomery!"). The second best joke is the sequence where he is trying to persuade the coiled Woodrow to accept his role and play that he is a war hero who fought with them ("They want heroes? All right, we got six of them! All right, we throw a seventh for good luck, who's counting?... Who's telling lies upfront? Everyone of those boys is telling the truth, except they changed the names a little so as to not give out military information!"). Unfortunately, nobody else of the characters is even half as captivating as him. While somewhat abridged, "Hail the Conquering Hero" still has its moments of brilliance that will appeal to both the audience and the critics.

Grade:++

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Lady Bird

Lady Bird; tragicomedy, USA, 2017; D: Greta Gerwig, S: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, Timothée Chalamet, Lois Smith

Sacramento, 2 0 0 2. Christine, who gave herself the nickname "Ladybird", is a teenage outsider preparing for her last day at a Catholic high school. She often clashes with her overcontrolling mother, Marion, while Christine's dad is in depression since he lost his job, complicating her plans to attend an expensive college in New York. Christine's best friend is the chubby Julie. Even though she falls in love with Danny, Christine is angry to find out he is actually gay. Nonetheless, she loses her virginity with another guy, Kyle. She also prepares to star in a school play. Due to an argument, Marion refuses to say farewell to Christine before the latter departs for New York, which she regrets. In New York, Christine is lost, but enters a church and then phones her parents to express her gratitude.

A nostalgic and gently cynical 'coming-of-age' tale, this unassuming little bitter-sweet comedy film is a semi-biographical essay without a clear storyline, instead relaying more on a 'slice-of-life' style that just follows the protagonist through life as she learns something along the way. Writer and director Greta Gerwig emulates several events from her teenage life in "Lady Bird", which thus feel genuine, whereas she has a lot of support from the leading performance, the excellent Saoirse Ronan, who already advanced into a classic actress by that time. One of the best jokes is Christine's and Jenna's prank in which they "decorate" the automobile of the nuns with a "Just married to Jesus" sign; when Christine screams on the street after experiencing her first kiss; when Christine is acting all "tough" at the store where he brother Miguel works at ("In here, I'm not your sister, I'm a customer!") or when she has a comical line after being intimate with her boyfriend for the first time ("How we are not virgins anymore. We deflowered each other."). Some omissions bother, though: the story structure feels strangely rushed, hectic and chaotic at times (especially the preparations for the stage play, which barely last several seconds of vignettes); some side characters are neglected (brother Miguel; Danny, whose gay side is suddenly mentioned but never brought up later); the ending is a little inarticulate (Christine lost in New York could have been a great little subplot on its own right) whereas some scenes of Christine arguing with her mother sometimes feel too melodramatic. It is a wonderful, very good film, refreshing in its humanity and emotions in an era of movies of special effects and sequels, yet it still missed some deeper inspiration to be considered a true classic of teenage comedy tales among the ranks of "Daria", "Heaven Help Us" or "Juno". One sequence illustrates this: in preparation for a play, the priest gives this challenge to the students: "Who ever cries first, wins". He himself then starts sapping first. And then it just cuts to another scene? A very abrupt shift. A true master, though, would have elaborated this interesting sequence even more, to not let it just randomly disappear like that.

Grade:+++

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Rififi

Du rififi chez les hommes; crime-thriller, France, 1955, D: Jules Dassin, S: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Jules Dassin, Marcel Lupovici, Marie Sabouret

Paris. After five years, criminal Tony gets released from jail. His associate, Jo, invites him to do a robbery of a jewel store, together with Mario and Cesar, but Tony declines. However, when he finds out his ex-girlfriend, Mado, is now the girlfriend of his rival, gangster Pierre Gruter, Tony changes his mind and accepts Jo's proposal—but under condition that they go for the main prize, the vault in the jewel store. After a lot of preparation, Tony, Jo, Mario and Cesar storm the first floor, drill a hole on the ceiling, descend down into the store, disable the alarm and spend the night cracking the vault. They escape with a loot worth a fortune. Cesar gives one ring from the vault to a girl, who in turn gets into possession of Gruter who kidnaps him, kills Mario and realizes Tony and Jo have the loot. Gruter's thugs kidnap Jo's kid and demand the loot for ransom. Tony finds out the warehouse where the kid is held and kills Gruter's gang. Jo is killed and Tony himself is wounded, but manages to drive the kid safely to his mother.

American director Jules Dassin's first French film, one of the best movies of the decade, "Rififi" is a shining crime film that still seems equally as fresh and modern today as it was back during its premiere, and eventually became the "golden standard" for hundreds of future heist films that tried to copy it. Filmed in independent conditions, Dassin exploited all the minimum resources to achieve a maximum result thanks to a tight script where every little detail, subplot and character have a purpose and role later on, circling out the impression with a clear strategy and sense where all these events are going and how to achieve them, constructing one giant commentary on greed and its consequences which just spiral more and more out of control. Everything is remarkably compact: there is no 'empty walk', everything has a purpose later on in the finale, so many details seem justified: for instance, the studious preparation of the four criminals for the robbery (Tony observes that the last store is closing at around 10:00 pm, whereas the earliest new business activity is a delivery of the florist at 5:30 am, concluding they have that much time during the night for the robbery). The highlight is definitely the bravura, 'tour-de-force' 25-minute heist sequence that lasts the entire night, where the four criminals drill a hole on the ceiling, descend down, block the alarm thanks to a fire extinguisher and then spend the entire remaining time cracking the vault: it was filmed without any music or dialogue, yet its dynamics reach almost Hitchcock's intensity of suspense. The second highlight is also the finale, where Tony is racing against time in order to save Jo's kidnapped kid before the gangsters figure out that Jo will not pay the ransom to them. It all ends with an expressionistic sequence of a nightmarish car drive with the kid, completing the high impression of this dark classic that is rightfully considered a black pearl of cinema.

Grade:+++

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Who Am I to You...!

Hum Aapke Hain Koun...!; drama / comedy / musical / romance, India, 1994; D: Sooraj Barjatya, S: Salman Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Mohnish Bahl, Renuka Shahane, Anupam Kher, Reema Lagoo




Rajesh is a successful businessman, just like his uncle Kailashnath. Rajesh's brother is the mischievous Prem, who is still studying. They both had to learn to be independent since they lost both parents. Rajesh gets engaged to Pooja, the daughter of Siddharth Choudhury. Simultaneously, Prem falls in love with Nisha, Pooja's sister, but they keep this a secret. With time, Pooja gives birth to a baby. However, Pooja slips down the stairs and dies from the fall in the hospital. Devastated, the now-widowed Rajesh is a broken man. The family thus decides to engage him to the girl "next in line", Pooja's sister Nisha. Due to a misunderstanding, Nisha accepts the arranged marriage, and decides to send a farewell letter to Prem via her dog, Tuffy. The dog, though, gives the letter to Rajesh, who decides that Prem and Nisha should marry instead, since they love each other.

When it comes to India's highest grossing films, an unofficial trio marked the 90s: "Who Am I to You...!", "The Big-Hearted Will Take Away the Bride" and "Something is Happening". These three films signalled a rejuvenation of India's cinema, since the local audiences rushed to the cinemas and showed that there is an interest in these films, after all, which helped overturn the meagre box office results from the 80s into positive numbers. However, while the latter two films are justifiably still remembered fondly, since they have a lot of charm, wit and genuine ideas, the former, "Who Am I to You...!" feels rather dated by today's standards: it starts off fun, but quickly loses its inspiration and falls into the standard mold of a soap opera. The sequence where Pooja slips and the camera lingers on how she is falling down the stairs, which will prove to be fatal, is a typical cliche of melodramatic soap. Likewise, the 3-hour running time is a detriment for such a thin storyline, since almost a third of its time is filled with tiresome musical and dance sequences, until the movie collapses under this weight. The only reason to see it are the two sympathetic leading roles, Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit, and the cute white dog, Tuffy, yet these are only small crumbs of pleasure in an movie that has too much empty walk. One of the best moments is the comical sequence where Prem and Lalloo are suppose to bring shoes in a box for the wedding, yet the mischievous Nisha tricks them and steals the box away (which was guarded by Tuffy): when Prem and Lalloo find the box, they discover that the shoes are missing and the box is instead filled with candy. However, Prem manages to bring the shoes back and return the empty box to Nisha with an amusing note that while she is "sweet as candy", they need the shoes. The movie would have benefited if there were more of these kind of fresh moments in the story, yet director Sooraj Barjatya insisted on a kitschy, albeit solid fluff.

Grade:+

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Never on Sunday

Pote tin Kyriaki; comedy, Greece / USA, 1960; D: Jules Dassin, S: Melina Mercouri, Jules Dassin, Giorgos Foundas, Titos Vandis, Mitsos Ligizos, Despo Diamantidou

Piraeus. Ilya is a free-spirited prostitute who spends her time at the port partying with her dozen clients, including her suitor, half-Italian Tonio. American philosopher and philhellene Homer shows up at the port, at first to explore Greece, but is then fascinated by Ilya and notices she enjoys attending the Greek play of Medea, except that she thinks it has a happy ending. He feels pity for her, assuming she can be so much more than just a prostitute. No Face is a rival pimp who feels threatened by Ilya, and thus proposes Homer a deal: Homer should cultivate Ilya and persuade her to give up prostitution, and No Face will pay for it. Homer persuades Ilya to try history and philosophy lessons for two weeks, but after she finds out about the deal with No Face, she quits and returns back to her partying life. Homer gives up on reforming her and leaves the port in a ship.

A gentle, albeit chaotic restructuring of the classic play "Pygmalion", just with an ironic twist, this comedy film presents a story of a modern man, Homer, trying to "convert" heroine Ilya, a prostitute, into an educated woman, seeing in her a symbol for the fall of Greek classic values, only to in the end find out that she prefers her lifestyle, which makes this film a contemplation on libertarianism and subjectivity of happiness, advocating that each person should live their life the way they want it, even if it means an outright embracing of Mediterranean hedonism. The most was achieved out of the leading actress, the excellent Melina Mercouri, who was nominated for several awards for her role, yet everything else in the film does not hold up well today: the screenplay structure is messy and disorganized, especially in the incomplete-abrupt ending (the disproportionate amount of time is spent on one of Ilya's a dozen suitors, Tonio, yet his character arc is left incomplete and vague in the plot); some of its attempts at humor feel forced (Homer applauds at a Greek man dancing in a bar, but the man considers that gesture an insult); the sole process of Ilya's education is never elaborated and is left only on a random montage with barely a running time of a couple of minutes whereas a lot of the moments seem as if they were made up on the spot, without some clear strategy prepared beforehand, as to know where this is going. One of the best jokes is when a man carrying a bunch of suitcases is running towards a streetcar, yet it just drives off without him—only for the conductor to randomly stop the streetcar just a couple of yards later, to pick up the attractive Ilya. "Never on Sunday" lacks highlights, not managing to be anything more than a standard-good film featuring a great isolated performance, and thus it stays in the shadow of Fellini's gem "Nights of Cabiria".

Grade:++

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Dune: The Alternative Edition Reduxe

Dune: The Alternative Edition Redux; science-fiction, USA, 1984 / 2012; D: David Lynch, S: Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis, Kenneth McMillan, Everett McGill, Freddie Jones, Sting, Jürgen Prochnow, Sean Young, Dean Stockwell, Silvana Mangano, Max von Sydow, Patrick Stewart, Virginia Madsen, Linda Hunt, Alicia Witt 

In the year 10,191, Princess Irulan explains that the most important substance in the Universe is Spice, which can enable travel through space, but can only be found on the desert planet Arrakis, called Dune. The Space Guilds sends a Navigator to the Emperor who explains him that he plans to destroy the increasingly popular House Atreides. When the Atreides and their servants come to Dune, the evil Vladimir from the House of Harkonnen kills Duke Leto, while his son Paul and his mother Jessica are able to escape an hide in the desert. They join the Fremen tribe. Paul marries Chani and teaches them his special fighting techniques, adopting the name Muad'Dib. With the help of giant sand worms, they start a rebellion, kill Vladimir and place Paul as the new Emperor. Then it starts to rain.

Upon its release, even though it was one of the most expensive movies of its time with a budget of 40 million $, and even though it came during the "science-fiction wave" of the late 70s and 80s, David Lynch's film adaption of "Dune" was met with hostility and rejected by both the critics and the audiences alike. 28 years later, a certain fan under the nickname Spicediver assembled and released a fanedit of the film, adjoining it with deleted scenes and thereby extending its running time from two to three hours. The result: "Dune: The Alternative Edition Reduxe" is an improvement to the official cut, since it gave more room for the characters in the complex, dense storyline, explaining their motivations and reasons for acting. People unfamiliar with Frank Herbert's excellent novel "Dune" were utterly startled and confused by a completely foreign world set in the far future, with no relation to our time, and thus did not understand it back in 1984, yet after "Game of Thrones" and several other stories set in entirely fictional worlds, "Dune" became less cryptic if more patience was invested into it: it is a classic tale of several power clans fighting over dominance and rule, where the spice is an allegory for a valuable resource, possible oil, and therefore its possession enables more power, whereas Muad'Dib is an allegory of Muhammad, who organized various desert tribes into independence in order to take over the control of their own land over foreign imperial struggle. However, Herbert's novel was even more philosophical than that, since spice could also be used as a drug that expands consciousness, thereby changing the perception: there is no center of the world anymore after it, because that center is anywhere in someone's mind. Even with these improvements, this edition is also flawed: the last third is rushed one way or the other, hasting Paul's rise from an outsider to a leader of the Fremen tribe, and failing to dwell more on some philosophical concepts, instead focusing on an action finale involving Paul riding a giant worm that attacks the city capital on Arrakis. The movie should have been four hours long, and included more intimate scenes from the novel, yet it is better in this edition, especially in some crumbs of wisdom, such as when Paul listens to his father's words that people should not fear change ("But a person needs new experiences. They draw something deep inside. A longing to grow. Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken").

Grade:++

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Deadpool

Deadpool; fantasy action thriller comedy, USA, 2016; D: Tim Miller, S: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić (voice), Andre Trixoteux

Deadpool attacks a convoy on the street in order to kill his nemesis, Francis, but the latter flees. Deadpool then digresses about his past: as Wade Wilson, he was a cynical mercenary who started a relationship with prostitute Vanessa. However, Wade found out he has cancer and thus decided to undertake an experiment in a laboratory, led by Francis, where he would be cured by getting mutant genes in order to be recruited by an unknown group. Wade was cured, but became disfigured and vowed revenge against Francis by dressing up as a masked anti-hero, Deadpool. Back in present, Vanessa is kidnapped by Francis' men. With the help of 8ft tall mutant Colossus and human torch Negasonic Teenage Warehead, Deadpool is able to save Vanessa and kill Francis.

"Deadpool" seems like an outburst of resistance against the "safe" superhero movies that reigned during that era, particularly the big budget Marvel franchize, in the form of one giant, untrammelled, cynical metafilm dark comedy that takes all those superhero cliches and then deconstructs and twists them until they are turned out into something new. When a movie starts off with opening credits that convey pure written parody ("Some Douchebag's Film", "Starring: God's Perfect Idiot", "A Hot Chick", "A British Villain", "Directed by An Overpaid Tool"), using one colossal camera drive inside a still frame in the middle of a "frozen" action sequence and is equipped with the fantastic song "Angel of the Morning" by Juice Newton, one already gets the impression this is not going to be one of those 'run-of-the-mill', predictable mainstream films. If "The Avengers" are a merry-go-round, "Deadpool" is a roller coaster: writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick act almost as Jerry Lee Lewis, not caring if they destroy everything as long as they have a blast and offer insane energy to the audience. A lot of credit should also be given to Ryan Reynolds, the creative mind behind this project who managed to get this unusual film going.

The story is controversial since the anti-hero swears, is cynical and naughty, yet its level of creativity is staggering, insomuch that it somewhat amends a lot of its flaws or misguided decisions. One of the funniest moments is after the experiment, when Wade, whose face is now full of scars, wrinkles and disfigurement, appears in front of his friend, Weasel, who says this insane line: "Your face looks like Freddy Krueger had sex with a topographical map of Utah". Deadpool's arguments with the depressive 'Goth' girl Negasonic Teenage Warhead also have a lot of sly wit ("Fake laugh. Hiding real pain..."). One highlight scene, near the finale, even has a wounded Deadpool having a hallucination of his girlfriend, Vanessa, lying on the floor, and all of a sudden animated little animals show up around her, including a unicorn, a bird and a heart sign—pure genius. "Deadpool's" biggest flaws are the occasional numbing, splatter violence, a couple of too cruel moments or an excess of pop-culture references, ranging from Ferris Bueller to Limp Bizkit, which can get 'off-topic' and stray way too far from the focus of the real plot. However, its characters are sheer fun and unpredictability, to such an extent that it seems as if the movie itself does not know what they might do in the next scene.

Grade:+++

Friday, August 3, 2018

Heaven Can Wait

Heaven Can Wait; fantasy romantic comedy, USA, 1978; D: Warren Beatty, Buck Henry, S: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, James Mason, Jack Warden, Charles Grodin, Dyan Cannon, Buck Henry, Vincent Gardenia


Los Angeles. Joe is a football player who still waits for his big break, but his trainer, Max, believes in him. While riding on a bicycle, Joe gets hits by a truck and dies, but there has been a mix-up, since Heaven intended him to die in 2025. Therefore, angel Jordan sends Joe's soul back on Earth, into the body of rich energy industrialist Farnsworth, who was poisoned by his wife Julia and her lover Abbott. Joe instantly falls in love with activist Betty, who came to Farnsworth's mansion asking him to stop a project of an refinery that would displace hundreds of people from a small town. When Joe abides by her wishes, Betty falls in love with him. Joe also contacts Max and manages to persuade him that his soul came back in Farnsworth's body. However, Abbott manages to shoot and kill Farnsworth, so Joe goes into the body of football player Jarrett to win the game. Jordan erases Joe's memory, who becomes Jarrett, but stumbles upon Betty and asks her out for a date.

With "Citizen Kane", O. Welles set a precedent by getting nominated four times for a single film (best picture, best actor, best director, best screenwriter), and it took 37 years until this feat was repeated by Warren Beatty in his fantasy comedy of mistaken identity "Heaven Can Wait", a remake of the beloved film "Here Comes Mr. Jordan". Unfortunately, the merits of Welles for "Kane" are far superior and contain a more enduring value than Beatty's for "Heaven Can Wait", which failed to reach that status of a classic with time. This film is one of the more unusual ones of the decade because it seems so out of place for its time: it is so safe and old fashioned it seems more as if it came from the 50s, and not from the "wild" 70s. It is a good movie, yet the directors and screenwriters needed more than triple of the amount of inspiration and ingenuity to properly sell such an outlandish concept. The sequence of the plane in the clouds that transports souls seems very kitschy today, whereas several other moments haven't aged that well, either, due to their sometimes corny humor without a true comic timing. For instance, Julia and her lover, Abbott, tried to poison her husband, Farnsworth, and thus it seems illogical that Joe, who is now in Farnsworth's body, would simply ignore them and their future assassination attempts, and do nothing about them, instead focusing on assembling a football team, as if that is of no concern to him. Some of the better jokes are found in this second act, though, when Julia and Abbott are never quite sure if Farnsworth is toying with them or if he simply lost his mind: in one scene, Julia is in the hallway and takes a drink to calm herself, but as soon as Farnsworth/Joe passes by her, casually asking how she's doing, she drops the glass on the floor from shock. The love story between Joe and Betty is the strongest point of the film: there is something in that scene where they are in his car, but he constantly takes away his look from her, until he confesses: "I just cannot help but to stare at you". The unusual, but tragic-lyrical ending gives some weight to the story as well. While too simplistic at times, the movie is still charming and neat to watch.

Grade:++